Happy New Year, dear readers! My new year resolution for A Tale of Short Stories, is to be more present, through writing short stories, as well as continue to review books for you. To kick off with my new year resolutions, I would like to present to you my latest work. I hope you will like it. Please remember to share it on social media, leave comments and feedback. What worked? What didn’t? spill the beans in the comment section! I am always happy to repay the favor 😉 Happy reading!
PS: A BIG thank you to Elyse, who proofread my story. You rock! 🙂
The day ended abruptly. The streets were empty, with an occasional stray animal breaking the now thickening silence. The city was plunged into darkness, and street lanterns were the only reminder of human civilization. Somewhere within the darkness, tears broke.
Anne stood by the fireplace, arms wrapped around her waist, gaze lost in the dancing flames. It had been a day since Michael had left, leaving behind a stream of thoughts and doubts. Had she gone too far this time? Last time they had such a big fight she thought they wouldn’t survive it, and somehow they did. She never thought they could do worse than on that day, but today’s fight seemed to prove her wrong. Was this the last straw, after all? Anne couldn’t say. She stood there, heart heavy and empty at the same time as the grandfather clock stroke the hour. Released from the temporary hypnoses, Anne looked away from the flames and into the stormy night outside of her home. It was ironic how nature was able to match her mood.
Reaching into the rear pocket of her jeans, Anne retrieved her cell phone. She always kept it on silent and consequently, always missed calls. She checked the call log, looking for a familiar name. There were three missed calls: two from her mother and one from the doggy care. None from Michael. She’d hoped he would have called, asked to come back, or told her how much of a jerk she had been. It was true; she could be an asshole sometimes, pushing his buttons when she clearly knew better. Staring at the phone, however, did not relieve her worries. There were no calls nor texts from him. She wondered where he could have gone. Had he had a proper meal? Did he remember to take his heavy duty rain coat? What about his pain medication? It was so strange to continuously worry about someone she had been ready to reap apart emotionally not so long ago. She wondered if he struggled as much as she did at the moment. How could one love and hate someone so passionately at the same time? Between her hands, her phone began to flash away.
“Michael? I was wondering if you were going to call at all…” she blurted out into the receiver.
“Hello?” a coarse voice echoed back.
“Who is this?” Anne was confused. The voice did not belong to her husband.
“Paul, ma’am. I am with the park services. I found the phone on the bench as I was doing my rounds and…”
“Where is Michael?” Anne interrupted.
“Ma’am, that is why I am calling. I haven’t seen anyone since my shift started and was hoping you could help locate the phone’s owner. With the bloody rain outside, I fear the owner might have gone to seek refuge. I’m surprised the phone didn’t drown in all this rain. Would you like to pick it up and return to its owner?” Paul chatted away.
A silence followed.
“Y-yes. Yes, I will be there shortly. Where are you located?”
She wrote the address down, hung up, and headed for the door. The storm was restless, giving the street an ominous look. Anne hurried into her car, anxious to get to the Warren Park, located only a few blocks from their home. It was not the biggest, nor the most entertaining park in the city. On a good day, it gave local suburbans a means to enjoy nature with a ten mile trail that span around the neighborhood. Anne loved to venture there for her morning runs. There was no real scenery, but the park was always well taken care of. Michael loved to sit on the bench, his nose in between the pages of a book, while she was getting her exercise done. Warren Park was part of their routine, something that grounded them to the area. Now, however, it was quite an unwelcome sight.
Anne sat in the parking lot, watching the rain curtain envelop her car. She reached into the pocket of her rain coat and pulled out Michael’s phone. She had retrieved it from Paul, who had been kind to meet her by her car, thus avoiding her to actually face the rain. The phone he’d placed into her hands was in fact her husband’s. Paul reiterated to her that he had not seen anyone outside, considering the weather condition. Anne could hardly doubt him. She looked through Michael’s phone and message logs; the last entries dated from a day ago, before they had the fight. She sighed, wondering how he could have lost his phone, and more importantly, why had he been at the park? Anne went through her pocket, reaching for her phone. She dialed a number, and after a few rings, a woman picked up.
“Beth, hi, it’s me.”
“Hi Anne! Is everything okay?” Beth inquired.
“Yes, everything is fine. Is Michael with you by any chance?”
“No, why? Was he supposed to come over? I’ve been all over the place today! I can’t remember if he was to come by today or later this week?” Beth continued.
Anne sighed at the other end of the line.
“No, Beth. I – I just thought he might be with you, that’s all. I’ll try Jason.”
“Is everything alright?” Beth repeated herself.
“Y-yes. I will call you back later, Beth. Thank you, and say hi to Tom and the kids.”
“Okay, honey. Will do. If you need anything, you know we are just down the street!”
“Yes, thank you.” Anne hung up.
Michael wasn’t at his sister’s. Nor was he at his best friend, Jason’s. Anne did not want to worry, but she was beginning to feel unease. It was not like Michael to disappear without giving notice. It had been one of the first things Anne had loved about him when they first started dating. She loved how reliable Michael was; how she could always reach him. Now, however, she wondered if something had happened to him.
Jason hadn’t seen Michael since last weekend when they all went bowling. Just like Beth had earlier, he asked her if everything was fine. Anne didn’t want to alarm anyone by telling them the truth: that Michael had left a day ago, and since seemed to be missing. She hoped that he would turn up as soon as he realized he didn’t have his phone. Perhaps he had gone back to their place while she was out to retrieve it? Anne didn’t want to create chaos and have everyone worry over something that might actually be nothing. With this resolve, she drove back home.
The hands of the grandfather clock finally aligned. It had now been thirty-six hours since Michael had left the house. Anne had tried to sleep but kept tossing and turning in bed, wondering where he could be. She finally got up, as the clock rung past two in the morning. She looked at her phone for a missed call, but nothing showed. She poured herself a glass of water and slowly moved into the living room, which seemed to be the gravitating point of their existence. Anne wondered if she should call the police. After all, it was not like Michael to disappear. Outside, the rain had subsided. There was no soul to be seen; no noise to be heard. The storm had come and gone, leaving behind darkness and an unusual silence. Perhaps now, he would come? What if he didn’t? What if something had happened to him, while she had been downplaying all the scenarios? Anne began to shiver at the thought of a worst possible scenario. Anne headed for the front door, snatching her parka off the hook, and nervously putting it on. She didn’t care that she was still in her pajamas. She was more preoccupied by the urgency of the situation.
Stepping into the darkness, she walked briskly down the street, hands in her pockets, breathing the cool autumn air. The streets were illuminated by lanterns, shaping a way for her. It was cold, and very quiet. Anne moved as fast as she could. Three blocks down, she turned right and crossed the lawn of a white colonial style house. Without thinking twice she began to knock intensely at the front door. Soon, her knock morphed into pounding. Somewhere dogs began to bark. Finally lights turned on inside, and soon, the door flung open.
“What on earth…Anne!” Beth stood at the door, securing her bathrobe around her waist.
Anne broke into a loud sob as her sister-in-law drew her inside the house. Tom was standing by the staircase. Beth waved him away as both women made their way into the kitchen. Beth pulled a chair, and eased Anne into it.
“What happened, Anne?” Beth asked, as she was trying to calm Anne down.
“He- he hasn’t come home, Beth” Anne blurted in between sobs.
“Maybe he stayed out late with the boys, you know how men get.”
“N-no. It’s been close to two days now. And…they found his phone.”
“Who?” Beth frowned.
“P-paul…with…the…park services” Anne responded.
She told Beth and Tom, who had finally joined them around the table, the events of the past forty hours. With a heavy heart, Anne finally called the police, reporting Michael as missing. An officer took her statement over the phone and read back to her a case number which she could use to inquire about the status of the report, if needed.
The rain had stopped only to pick up again a few hours later. Michael reached for his phone, only to remember that he had lost it the night before. He relied on it for everything, and now, he felt a bit lost. Had Anne called him? Despite the years of being married, Michael still had trouble guessing his wife’s next moves. They had a pretty good fight this time, the kind that leaves you wondering who is the craziest in this fight. Anne had accused him of cheating, and as any man would, he had played the offended. He didn’t want to be the sore loser in this fight, even if she was once again right. Michael thought that if he’d push back hard enough, she would eventually break and feel guilty for having ever doubted his intentions. She had picked up the bait of course, and they fought for a long time, before he took off. It had all been an act of course; he was not at all offended by her accusations, but was once again impressed by how clever his wife was. She never ceased to amaze him. Michael wondered again if Anne was eaten up by guilt, or if she was still mulling over in anger. He should have gone home the next day, but the rain had interfered. Well… the rain, and Veronica.
Michael felt warm hands wrap around his naked torso. He turned in bed to face the half awake, half asleep Veronica. He found his way to her apartment after the rain came down on him and had been here since. Veronica was nice to him. She was young, as they always were, and never asked much. She just wanted them to spend time together, like this, without a care of what tomorrow could bring. Michael liked that insouciance about her, and about their relationship. He knew this was only going to last as long as it could. Perhaps a few months, at best a year, max two. Eventually he was going to leave her, return to his wife and their picture perfect life. He always wondered why other men, who kept a side chick, ever pretended that they would leave their spouses for someone else. Why pretend to want to get back to square one? Who, so late in the game, really wanted to start everything over? Not him. He liked the little system he had created. He had an amazing wife and a wonderful home to come to, and when he got bored by its perfection, because he was human after all, he strayed away. Some might call him an asshole, say he was going to go to hell. Perhaps, but at least he was living. No one could really guarantee what afterlife – if that was really a thing – would bring. Plus, it’s not like Anne was always a gift either, Michael thought.
“What should we do today?” Veronica asked, as she was lazily stretching in bed. The cotton sheet slid down her torso, revealing her small breasts. Michael wandered his eyes over the new vision, before sighing. He didn’t have his phone, and he had been gone for too long. If Anne wasn’t worried by now, she would have at least called Beth or Jason, asking about his whereabouts. He didn’t want to raise more suspicion than was necessary — not after the tantrum he threw trying to defend himself in front of his wife.
“I’m sorry, babe, but I need to head home soon.”
Veronica didn’t argue. She rolled over to the other side of the bed, and without a care got out of the bed. “Suit yourself” was all she said as she vanished into the bathroom.
Michael left the bed and without ceremony, got dressed. He left before Veronica could reappear. The rain was still pouring outside, and somewhat, he was thankful for it. He walked for a few blocks, entered Joe’s Shack, grabbed a few beers, and when he could barely get up, finally left the place, heading home.
Anne was sitting in her bed, eyes dried. She stared at the door, which Beth had left open after she dropped her off earlier in the day. She was told by the police that because her husband was not suspected to have been kidnapped and had not been convicted of crimes, the case would be considered as not of greatest importance. The officer on the line wanted to be reassuring, telling her that perhaps her husband had lost track of time and would be back soon enough. They would still run a search on the license plate of his car, in case he was in some trouble. They would be in touch, the officer finally said. Beth had been there while Anne was on the phone talking to the police. She had offered to stay, also worried about her brother’s whereabouts. However, she did not think Michael was in any substantial danger, as did the police.
Now that she was alone in her home, Anne wondered if they were right. Maybe she was overreacting because of how bad her and Michael’s fight had gone. Was it guilt eating her up? Exhausted by all her thoughts and worries, Anne laid back down and tried to sleep. Downstairs, she heard a door opening. Flying out of the bed, Anne hurried to the bottom of the stairs. Lights were on in the kitchen. She proceeded cautiously into the room, anxious to know who had come in. Tom and Beth had a set of keys to their home, just as they did of theirs. Beth had told her she would be coming back later, but Anne didn’t think it would be this late. Could it be Michael after all? As she entered the room, her husband stood in the middle of it, casually spreading butter on his toast. He lifted his head, and their eyes met.
“You’re home.” Anne mumbled.
“I am” Michael agreed.
They stood there, in silence, assessing one other. Anne was slightly relieved to see Michael. He seemed drunk, but otherwise fine. She wondered where he’d been all this time, but also, she didn’t want to know. Perhaps because she knew already; perhaps because there was no point in starting fighting again. A weight that had been there for the past two days slightly lifted off her chest. She slowly made her way to the refrigerator and pulled out eggs and bacon. Without a word she busied herself at the stove. She placed the eggs on a plate and topped them with bacon. She sliced the bread, which she always kept on the counter, and made her way to the table. She freed her hands of the plates and turned to Michael.
“Let’s eat” was all she said.